'This is the dream scenario in your career' – Adrian Dunbar on Line of Duty

As Adrian Dunbar contemplates the one character that he believes will define his career, he wastes little time in nominating police superintendent Ted Hastings.

The distinguished Enniskillen-born actor hit the jackpot when he landed the role as one of the lead protagonists in BBC1’s gripping police drama Line of Duty, but no one involved in a production that is shot in Belfast could have imagined the scale of the success that beckoned when they started filming in 2012.

Dunbar and a stellar cast, including Vicky McClure and Martin Compston, have served up stunning viewing figures; their tale of police infighting and corruption created captivating drama that ensured series five is currently Britain’s most watched television show in 2019.

As he sat down with us in his guise as a judge on the Virgin Media Discover short film competition, the 61-year-old actor brought a presence into the room that only a select few who become household names can exude.

In an era when box sets and binge-watching has become a regular part of our television experience, Line of Duty is one of the last dramas to still follow the traditional format of weekly instalments, with its 9pm slot on Sunday giving it a platform to become must-watch drama.

“Box sets are great and we all enjoy binge-watching a series, but now and again, something comes along that bucks a trend and thankfully for us, Line of Duty is one of those rare shows,” begins Dunbar, with series six of the top-rated show already confirmed by the BBC.

“We used to see this kind of thing when 18 million people watched the Morecambe and Wise Christmas show in the 1980s and everyone felt a part of a collective viewing experience, but that idea has gone in recent years, so to be part of that again is such a privilege for all of us involved in Line of Duty.

“People just couldn’t bear the thought of going into work and being told what had happened before they saw it themselves and I feel that Line Of Duty is successful at attracting that water-cooler audience.

“By that, I mean viewers who have a few minutes break at work to talk to their colleagues and they want to talk about a programme that has got everyone gripped; everyone talking about what is coming next.

“This is the dream scenario in your career and actors are lucky if they land on a part that allows them to bring everything they have learned in the business into a role, and Ted has been that part for me.

“Why has Line of Duty been so successful? So much is thrown into a mix that includes great writing from Jed Mercurio, a wonderful cast and, thankfully, my character Ted has survived longer than many on Line of Duty to take his place when filming for season six gets underway.”

Movie stars used to look down on television actors as second rate performers in their industry, but all that has changed with the explosion of Netflix and a television streaming culture that has been a source of fascination for Dunbar.

“The perception that TV actors were somehow not on the same level as movie actors has gone in an era when drama and shorter-form productions for television has gone to incredible heights,” continues Dunbar.

“People used to call it the medium of television and there was a reason for that. It was never very well done and it was well below movies on a number of levels.

“TV productions used to be slow, there was a lack of time and attention given to scripts, and for some of us back in the 1980s, working in TV became a little bit boring. Yet roll the clock forward to 2019 and that landscape has changed beyond recognition.

“We find ourselves now at a moment when TV has become the place to go to watch well-written, insightful, forward-thinking drama. It is a completely different ball game now, especially with this binge-watch and boxset option available that has changed the way we all consume our programming.

“It’s a whole new world, but the major thing that has happened in TV is the level of screenwriting and work that is done on scripts that has gone through the roof.

“When you look at the production values we see on the best television in Ireland, the UK and America, there is no doubt that TV is now right up there with film.

“The only difference is, of course, that film will always have the advantage of being a collective experience.

“Going to the cinema will never lose its appeal because there is something so special about sitting in a room with a few hundred people who are all excited about seeing something new for the first time and getting carried away with the emotion of the moment, but TV is right up there with movies now.”

Dunbar’s legacy as one of Ireland’s most prolific actors has long since been secure, and his eagerness to unearth rising talent in the Irish film industry saw him jump at the chance to be part of the judging panel for the Virgin Media Discovers film competition that attracted over 600 entries from budding Irish filmmakers.

The competition was won by Innocent Boy, a 10-minute short film by Cluster Fox Films and writer Tiernan Williams.

“I love working with and encouraging young filmmakers, especially in Ireland,” adds Dunbar, who lists roles in My Left Foot, The Crying Game and The General amid a glittering career.  He is also gearing up for the second season of Blood which will air early next year on Virgin Media One.

“We have so much talent out there and we don’t have many platforms like this for them to realise their dreams, so it is really, really welcome that Virgin Media has decided to do this, because there are not enough outlets for this kind of work to happen.

“People who don’t have a lot of experience can suddenly get a foot in the door with something like this, so it is a very important initiative and I would like to see a few more people of influence giving more Irish filmmakers similar opportunities.

“Things can happen for talented people on the back of a competition like this. They get the big break, it propels them to a stage they have not been on before and they can rapidly establish themselves in the industry.”

VIRGIN MEDIA DISCOVERS COMPETITION

The Virgin Media Discovers competition set out on a mission to discover and support the very best filmmakers in Ireland.

The winning entry will get a screening at next year’s Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival and will debut on national television on Virgin Media Television.

The winner also received €35,000 from Virgin Media and a TV production crew to support them in making their short film, with the bet entry selected by this esteemed a judign panel including Adrian Dunbar, Neasa Hardiman, Grainne Humphreys, Birch Hamilton and Bill Malone.

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